Amazon Instant Video Help: Stream vs. Download, Rent vs. Buy, Prime vs. Not

So you see a great movie, TV show or concert video listed in the Amazon Instant Video store, and the rental price is less than you’d pay to rent through other outlets, or what you’d pay for a Video On Demand pay per view on your satellite TV service. The purchase price shown is pretty attractive, too. Now what?

Stream vs. Download

Amazon Instant Videos are digital copies that can be streamed to your compatible device (like the Kindle Fire, your PC, Mac or various TV, Blu-Ray and other video components) or downloaded. Go to this page on Amazon to see a list of compatible devices.

Video can only be streamed while you’re connected to the internet, because any content that’s “streaming” is flowing to your device from a remote server as you’re playing it, like water flowing in a stream. In the olden days of dial-up, streaming was slow and prone to frequent interruptions. Often, the viewer would catch up to the end of the stream before the next chunk of it was loaded and ready to be viewed, resulting in “buffering” delays. Nowadays, thanks to high speed connections and better equipment all around, so long as you’ve got a good internet connection this is a thing of the past.

It’s important to know, video that’s streamed isn’t stored on your local device. If you rewind or fast-forward while watching a streaming video, you’re basically sending a message to the server to re-start the remote video file in a different location. It’s not much different from clicking on a link on a web page to tell the web server to take you to a different location online.

Video that’s downloaded can either be streamed during download to your local device for viewing immediately after purchase, or simply saved to the device like any other downloaded file, for later viewing.

If the file’s been downloaded to your local device, when you view it you’re just playing a local file, the same as watching a home movie on your PC’s hard drive or viewing TV shows you’ve saved on your DVR; no internet connection is required. If you haven’t opted to download the video to your local device, it will be saved in Amazon’s Cloud storage area at no extra charge to you.

If the file was saved to the Cloud, you can stream it from there to your local device or download it to your local device whenever you like—but you must be connected to the internet in order to access the Cloud storage area.

While this may sound like a bother, it can actually be a convenience for people who want to watch large media files (like HD movies) on portable devices that don’t have a lot of built-in memory. Thanks to Cloud storage and streaming, your local device doesn’t have to have a lot of built-in memory to play big media files, and your device’s memory capacity doesn’t have to impose any limits on the size of your media library.

One note of caution, though: streaming to the Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE over the 4G connection (as opposed to the wifi or Bluetooth connection) will incur data charges. If you want to be sure streaming video won’t incur data charges, open the Settings > More menu, then temporarily turn off the 4G connection and turn on the wifi while streaming. This will only work if you are within range of a public wifi hotspot or a wifi network for which you have connection rights (e.g., your home or office network). When you’re done streaming, turn off the wifi and turn the 4G back on.

Rent vs. Buy

Here’s what Amazon has to say about renting versus buying Amazon Instant Videos:

Rental Details

You have 30 days to complete watching this 24-hour rental. You can choose to ‘Watch Now’ or ‘Download’ it to a compatible device. If you choose to ‘Watch Now’, you will start instantly streaming the video on your computer and you may later stream it on another compatible device. If you choose to ‘Download’ the video, you will be able to download the video to a compatible device and watch the video on that device while disconnected from the internet. Learn more about downloading. Additional restrictions may apply (as provided in our Terms of Use).

Purchase Details

When you buy a video you may watch and re-watch it as often as you like (subject to the limitations described in the Terms of Use). You may stream a purchased video while connected to the internet (by clicking the ‘Watch Now’ button) and access the video from Your Video Library on any other compatible device. You may also download the video. Learn more about downloading. Additional restrictions may apply (as provided in our Terms of Use).

Prime vs. Not

Thousands of Amazon’s Instant Videos are available for free viewing to Amazon Prime members, but not all. The way you can tell is by looking at the pricing block on the product detail page. Videos that are free to Prime members include a “$0.00 for Prime Members” designation there. Unfortunately, this designation isn’t apparent when you’re looking at a list of videos, such as when you’re browsing by genre or reviewing a list of search results. You have to click through to the detail page to find the Prime designation, when it’s there.

However, Amazon has made it possible to browse just the Prime-eligible videos through this Prime Instant Video portal page. You’ll also find that when you’re viewing any category of Instant Videos, such as New Releases, there will be a “Prime Eligible” checkbox in the left-hand sidebar; clicking that box will limit the videos displayed to Prime Instant Video titles.

Note that Prime Videos you choose to view for free are all handled as streaming rentals, you cannot download the video to your local device or a Cloud storage area. But if you find you’ve particularly enjoyed a certain Prime Video and want to keep a copy, you can always purchase a download.


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